Dylan Fouch?got a lesson in personal finance on Monday away from the Ridgway High School classroom where he studies the subject.

A half-tank of regular gasoline in his 1987 Toyota Camry — at $3.73 a gallon — cost him $22 at the Chevron station on Mendocino and College avenues.

"I'm thinking it's not worth it," said Fouch? who commutes 130 miles a week from home in Larkfield to the Santa Rosa school. "It should be cheaper than that."

But gas prices have been steadily rising since the beginning of the year largely due to political unrest — and uncertainty over oil supplies — in the Middle East and North Africa.

The surge continued Monday in Santa Rosa, where gas hit an average of $3.76 for regular, up a dime over the weekend and 20 cents higher than a week ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. A year ago, gas was an even $3 a gallon here.

"It's an impact. It hurts," said Kristin Bastoni-Frazee, owner of Franco American Bakery in Santa Rosa, which sends out 14 delivery trucks every weekday morning at 5 a.m.

The bakery's gasoline costs are running $3,000 a month higher than a year ago, Bastoni-Frazee said, and so far she has absorbed the increase rather than boost her bread prices to stores and restaurants.

"It starts to put a scare in you," she said. "You think twice before you spend any money."

Clover Stornetta Farms, which ships 70,000 gallons of milk per day in a fleet of 55 big-rig trucks, is also absorbing the spike in diesel prices, which broke the $4 a gallon mark over the weekend.

"At some point we have to pass that cost along to retailers," said Marcus Benedetti, president of the Petaluma-based dairy products company.

That step would boost milk prices on market shelves, he said, delivering another hit to family finances.

"Times are tough," Benedetti said. "People are scrambling to cover their food bills."

Gasoline price increases hit the working poor hardest, said Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

While the more affluent may be nicked in the wallet, "it's really the people on the margin that this hurts," he said.

Rising gas prices also threaten the nation's economic recovery, and may offset part of a 2 percent cut in Social Security payroll taxes that began in January.

"One thing we know with oil so high, is this is not going to be a robust year for the economy," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research.

Crude oil prices retreated on Monday with news of resumed oil shipments out of Libya, but last week's jump above $100 per barrel continues to send ripples through global pipelines and unrest still roils the oil-rich region from Morocco to Iran.

"The market is going to be on a hair trigger," PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said. "If something else happens, get ready for (oil) prices to shoot back up."

Meanwhile, the payroll tax cut — giving the typical family an extra $1,000 to spend this year — may be blunted, experts said.

It represents the biggest jump in household incomes in nearly two years, but consumers increased spending just 0.2 percent in January, the smallest gain since June, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

Paul Dales, senior economist at Capital Economics, suggested that the tax cut will "offset the rise in gasoline and food prices, rather than provide a boost to real spending."

Some analysts had predicted pump prices over $4 a gallon in California this year, possibly by Memorial Day. Those predictions came even before the unrest in the Mideast.

Fouch? the Ridgway High School student, said $4 gas would make a difference to him.

"I think I'd need to get a job," he said.

Press Democrat wire services contributed to this report.